Can Women Be Color Blind?

Eye examination

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Women can absolutely be colorblind, but colorblindness a lot more common in men than women. Why is that the case? It has to do with genes and how the condition is inherited. While most color vision deficiency cases are the result of genetics, there are also non-genetic causes of colorblindness. Learn the details as to why it occurs.

Colorblindness By the Numbers

According to the Colorblind Awareness organization, about 1 in 200 women worldwide are colorblind compared to 1 in 12 men. There are several types of color vision deficiency. Some affect men more than women.

Red-green colorblindness is the most common and happens more in males than females. It’s also most common in males of Northern European descent.

Both men and women can have blue-yellow color vision deficiency, but it’s much rarer. Blue cone monochromacy is the rarest form of colorblindness and is also more common in males. 

Genes Involved

The genes involved in colorblindness are:

  • OPN1LW
  • OPN1MW
  • OPN1SW

All three of these genes are essential for normal color vision. Genetic changes involving these genes can contribute to color vision defects.

How It's Inherited

How you inherit colorblindness depends on whether the genes responsible for it are on the sex chromosomes (X and Y) or the autosomes (non-sex linked chromosomes), and whether it is expressed as dominant or recessive.

X-Linked Recessive Forms of Colorblindness

You inherit red-green colorblindness or blue cone monochromacy via an X-linked recessive pattern. The genes responsible for the condition, OPN1LW, and OPN1MW, are located on the X chromosome. Because people who are genetically male have only a single X chromosome, a single genetic change can cause these forms of colorblindness.

People who are genetically female have two X chromosomes, and a change would need to happen to these genes on both X chromosomes to result in these forms of colorblindness. This is much less likely. Having a normal gene on one X chromosome overrides the recessive mutation on the other X chromosome.

Fathers can’t pass down X-linked recessive traits to their sons because their genetic contribution to a male offspring is a Y chromosome, not an X. They can pass these traits on to their daughters, to whom they contribute an X chromosome.

However, a genetic female who inherits an X-linked trait from their father would also need to inherit it from their carrier mother in order to have these forms of colorblindness.

Autosomal Dominant Colorblindness

Blue-yellow color blindness is passed on via a non sex-linked autosomal dominance pattern. It can be passed to an offspring by either genetic parent. A single copy of the genetic change (in this case, OPN1SW) is enough to cause the disorder.

In the case of blue-yellow color vision, people are likely to inherit the condition from a parent who has it. It can also happen due to a new gene mutation.

Autosomal Recessive Colorblindness

Achromatopsia is a severe form of colorblindness. People with achromatopsia can’t see any colors. Those with this condition only see black, white, and shades of grey in between. Unlike other forms of color vision deficiency, it can also cause vision issues such as light sensitivity, limited visual acuity, farsightedness, and nearsightedness.

It’s inherited via an autosomal recessive pattern. Both parents have to have the recessive gene to pass it down, which is why it’s so rare. There are also some cases of achromatopsia where the cause is unknown. Only 1 in 30,000 people worldwide have this condition.

Risk Factors

You’re more likely to be colorblind if:

  • Someone in your family is colorblind 
  • You have an eye disease
  • You take medications with colorblindness as a side effect 
  • You have a brain or nervous system disease like multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • You are White

Other Causes

Color vision deficiency that isn’t caused by genes is called an acquired vision deficiency. Potential non-genetic causes of color blindness include:

  • Certain drugs 
  • Chemical exposure 
  • Eye disorders  
  • Damage to the optic nerve
  • Damage to areas of the brain that are responsible for visual processing 

Color vision can also diminish as you get older. In cases of non-genetic colorblindness, your eyes may be affected differently.

Examples of diseases that can cause colorblindness include:

  • Diabetes
  • Glaucoma
  • Leukemia
  • Liver disease
  • Alcoholism
  • Parkinson's 
  • Sick cell anemia
  • Macular degeneration

Medications that can cause color vision deficiency include:

  • Hydroxychloroquine 
  • Certain antipsychotics 
  • Ethambutol, an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis

To find out if you are colorblind, make an appointment with your eye doctor. They can perform a simple test to determine whether you have some form of color vision deficiency. It’s crucial to diagnose children early so that they can get help and accommodations in the classroom and elsewhere.

A Word From Verywell

There’s no cure for colorblindness, but there are ways to adjust and live with a color vision deficiency. It’s not a serious condition and doesn’t cause any harmful side effects. If a person loses their color vision later in life, there may be an underlying condition causing the problem. It’s essential to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist if you notice any changes in your vision.

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Article Sources
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